The Ministry of Health on Wednesday said that 17.6% of coronavirus vaccines were wasted or spoiled in Telangana in the two months since India started its inoculation drive. This was followed by Andhra Pradesh, where 11.6% of the total doses were wasted.
India’s overall percentage of vaccine wastage was 6.5%, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said at a press briefing. He urged state authorities to work toward reducing such wastage drastically.
NITI Aayog Member (Health) VK Paul said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, had expressed his disappointment over the high wastage rates, during his meeting with the chief ministers on Thursday. “It is a precious commodity,” Paul said. “We have to understand that.”
There are several reasons why a dose would be wasted, including its fragility and the requirement that doses are used within a certain amount of time. In many cases, the double dose regime and the size of the vials also pose problems.
India authorised two vaccines this month for emergency use, Oxford University-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, and Covaxin, a government-backed, indigenous one from Bharat Biotech.
In case of Covishield, each vial contains 10 doses, while Covaxin has 20. Both vials need to be used up within four hours once opened. In several states, wastage of doses were reported as recipients failed to show up on time, or at all, for their shots.
Two months since it rolled out the world’s largest vaccination programme, India has given 3.51 crore shots across 50,000 private and public inoculation centres, the health ministry said. The highest number of vaccinations were reported in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat, while the lowest figures were registered in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana.
Bhushan said that of the 83.4 lakh coronavirus doses that were administered worldwide on March 15, 36% were administered in India alone. However, he urged authorities in states reporting low rates of vaccination to ramp up their numbers.
The health official also denied that India was facing any shortage of vaccines, or that the government had not provided adequate doses to state governments to inoculate its citizens. “The Government of India has provided 7,54,00,000 vaccine doses to the states till now,” Bhushan said. “Even after this if someone says that the country is being not given priority then it is baseless.”
Bhushan was responding to a question about the accusations made by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who alleged that the Centre was not giving states enough vaccines, and instead was exporting precious shots to other countries.
“Let me say this, every day we compile a report about the number of doses received by every state, the number of shots utilised by them, and the shots left with them,” the health secretary said. “States themselves provide these details to the Centre.”
As for the export of vaccines, Bhushan said that India was obligated to share its doses with other nations under certain international frameworks and agreements.
70 districts reported more than 150% rise in cases
India on Wednesday reported the year’s biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases with 28,903 new infections, data from the health ministry showed. Total cases in the country have now risen to 1,14,38,734, the highest in the world after the United States and Brazil.
The health ministry said that February 9 was the lowest point in India’s trajectory of daily cases when 9,110 infections were reported in 24 hours. Since then, cases have been on the rise. This was mainly due to the resurgence of infection in a few states, the government said.
“There has been a 43% increases in new cases on a week-on-week basis,” Bhushan said. “And a 37% increase in new deaths on a week-on-week basis.”
Bhushan said there are 70 districts in 16 states where there had been more than 150% rise in Covid-19 cases between March 1 to March 15.
Some districts of concern that were flagged by the health ministry included Amritsar, which has recorded a 123% rise in cases from March 1 to March 15. Bhilwara in Rajasthan recorded an alarming 275% increase, data showed.
60% actives cases concentrated in Maharashtra
State-wise data showed that five states – Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu – continued to report a high number of daily new cases.
The situation was nowhere more alarming than in Maharashtra, the health ministry said. The state constitutes 60% of all active cases in the country and 45% of the total deaths.
Around March 1, the state was reporting 7,040 cases daily on an average, Bhushan said. But by March 15, the numbers jumped to over 15,000 on an average. “What is concerning is the the sharp rise in the positivity rate,” the health ministry official added. “It rose from 11% on March 1 to 16% now. In comparison, India’s positivity rate is 5%.”
Bhushan urged authorities in Maharashtra to increase the level of testing. “Authorities have not ramped up testing in the state to keep pace with the rise in the positivity rate so far,” he said.
The health official also expressed concern about the surge of cases in Punjab. He said that it was worrying how the positivity rate of the state had doubled to 6.8% from 3.4% in first 15 days of March. “This shows that Covid-19 appropriate behaviour is not being followed,” Bhushan said.